Yesterday afternoon Cornwall Council's Chief Executive Kevin Lavery and Leader Alec Robertson held a briefing for councillors to tell us that they wish to make a further £70 million of cuts over the next four years. They believe that this process is likely to involve around 2000 job cuts. This was the message that they went on to give to the press.
It is absolutely clear that Cornwall Council needs to, and can, make cuts. However I have not yet seen the justification for cuts on this scale and we need to make sure that jobs which deliver frontline services are protected wherever possible.
I have posted twice in the last few days about the needless bureaucracy involved in painting a yellow line. I know that there are other areas of the council's work where there is similar padding which needs to be stripped away.
But I won't pretend that the total of all these examples will add up to £70 million.
One point that was made at yesterday's briefing was that there are alternatives to redundancies. If, for example, all staff were to take a 5% pay cut, then it would save around £40 million per year. That's a big step towards the total needed. I have asked in the past about the top directors being prepared to take such a step now but was told that they have not even been asked to do so. Presumably they would be willing to share the cuts that might be imposed on all other staff.
Other ideas put forward are for increment freezes or short time working such as moving to a four day week for some posts. All of these are said to be 'on the table'.
Kevin Lavery made the case that these cuts present big opportunities for Cornwall. Indeed, he went on to use the term 'Big Cornwall'. He sees joint commissioning of services, outsourcing and a re-evaluation of what it is that the Council should be doing as the step forward. I have no idea whether or not I share such a viewpoint as there is simply not enough information to make any sort of decision on the issue. So I asked him about the involvement of councillors in the planning. The message seemed to be that our ideas are welcomed and there would be detailed scrutiny involvement when the proposals are ready. But, I said, we found last year that lots of budget plans were not produced in time and our involvement was not as successful as it might have been. Would those lessons be learned this time around. Rather than the bland yes that I had been expecting, I actually got no assurance at all. The message seemed to be that with such big changes and huge budget cuts, it might not be possible to involve councillors as fully as we would like.
But if we really are to see proposals for a radical shake up of what Cornwall does and how it delivers then the very least we can expect is for councillors to be able to shape and agree the proposals every step of the way. This won't be something that can simply be undone if it doesn't work out. We will be tied to contracts for many years into the future.
Together with my Lib Dem colleagues, I'm going to fight to save as many frontline services as possible and the jobs that deliver them. We will want to see justification for the cuts that are proposed and we will want to know what alternatives have been considered. And we will want to see all padding and excess bureaucracy removed before a penny is taken away from vulnerable people.
Incidentally, when it was suggested a few months ago that there might be job cuts on this scale, the council was quick to rubbish the selection with Cabinet Member Jim Currie saying that there would be nothing of the sort.